Why Your Website is The Most Important Digital Asset You Can Have
The desire for a beautiful, modern, sleek website is a lot stronger than the desire for a well-planned and -executed digital marketing strategy — and this has baffled me for years. Sure, an aesthetically gorgeous site may keep visitors combing and clicking through your site for a few extra minutes past your site’s average time on page … but if they’re not clicking through to pages that can transform them into leads and customers, then really: What is the point?
Substance doesn’t trump style, it just won’t matter if your content isn’t right
It has to be optimized for search and your audience’s interests, needs, and pain points. Speaking with Orbit Media Studios Co-Founder and Strategic Director Andy Crestodina confirms a line of thinking I’ve held for a long time. He’s spent a lot of time exploring website best practices for lead generation and knows first hand the educational process required to get buy-in with the decision-makers in big brands and small team alike.
You may be thinking, “Why does a designer need such a vast knowledge of the underpinnings of a modern online marketing strategy?” The answer is simple: Design is marketing. An elegant typeface and lavish graphic design work will only do so much to enhance brand awareness for any business. What it really takes to “win” with your website, according to Crestodina, is accessibility (in other words, clear messaging,) consistent content creation, and a rich understanding of SEO: what will make your site a champion in search results pages aka (SERPS). The following are 9 modern website design and optimization tenets that I took away from my interview with Andy. Let me know what you think.
10 Things I Learned About Website Design & Optimization
1. No one really cares about what you have to sell.
Focus on value beyond the product or service you sell, that’s the key to customer loyalty.
Pitching the features and benefits of your products is all good and well, but the reality is that what you offer is not that different from the business down the street or across the country. If you don’t believe me, listen to Robert Rose break down the future of product differentiation. That reality is harsh for some, as we’ve been taught from childhood that we’re a special snowflake and different from all the rest. Advances in technology and communication have reduced the once competitive moat of features and benefits to a feeble stream. The sooner we come to understand that the experiences we create for our customers that surround and support our products / services are the real differentiators, the sooner we can focus our efforts on activities that will help scale the effectiveness of our marketing.
2. Solve problems for your customers & prospects
We are quickly coming to an age where the consumer want’s to speak to businesses only in rare instances.
According to Gartner Research, customers will self-manage 85% of their relationships with companies without ever talking directly to a human. That means our sites have to become the subject matter experts that we have historically relegated to individuals on our team. In the short term this can all be boiled down to what my friend and marketer Marcus Sheridan coins as the “They Ask, You Answer” method of content creation on your website. In the long term, this will mean creating real time dynamic website interactions that have our websites delivering unique experiences based on the consumers need at that particular moment in time. No more one size fits all approach to web marketing.
3. Sitemaps are great, but understanding keywords is still king.
If you attempt to create a sitemap without fully understanding the intent of your prospects and customers, you will end up leaving countless dollars and profit on the proverbial table. Keywords are still the defacto representation of what seems to matter to a given audience. In search speak, it’s called semantic search and the impact it’s had on search engine optimization over the last few years has been nothing short of transformational. Search engines are smart enough to determine a searcher’s intent by understanding the relationship between the words used in the search queries and the searcher previous actions. Our job as a marketer is to predict how and where we can be competitive for the right terms in the right context, then build our site structure to support that.
4. Your website is your best unpaid sales person.
A website should mimic the sales discussion you have with potential customers.
Make the value proposition known. Too often we create marketing materials, websites and advertisements without listening intently to the conversations that our sales and support teams are having with prospects during the buyer journey. This is mission critical work. With 70-90% of the buyers journey happening online, a website needs to serve as a “uber-proxy” (pun intended) for phone and face to face interaction. This is not just highlighting the words and features that the sales team may be into to hit quota, this is about empathetic listening with the goal of addressing problems like a trusted consigliari, before they come up, using the language that the customer uses to describe their issues. (oh yeah, had to reference Tom from the God Father). Your communicating online via words, images, multi-media and calls-to-action in the ways that make the viewer feel like the site was designed specifically for them to serve their needs and solve their problems is the future of website marketing.
5. Get comfortable with serving multiple masters.
While we want to use our website to address the needs of our primary customer, humans come in all shapes and sizes, let’s call this multi niche marketing for now. Great tools have long existed that allow us to segment our mailing lists, hyper target our advertising and utilize custom variables (url, name, location etc..) to present a unique experience based upon the data we glean from our customers. Your website is the next phase in the evolution of using data to present custom pages and content to consumer who might benefit the most. We’re talking about increasing click-throughs, reducing bounce rates and creating relationships at scale one-to-one-to-many. The holy grail of real time marketing: right content and the right time for the right person.
7. Don’t just use social media as a place to dump promotional links.
I’ve come to view social is a veritable playground. While we may not always love it, there’s no denying that For research and experimentation it’s one of the cheapest customer listening mechanisms ever devised. where else can you identify people who may have interest in your products and services, listen to what they have to say, observe everything they choose to share publicly, gather demographic and psychographic information on them and then make calculated guesses by placing appropriate content in their path to see how they respond? Then.. measure the results, rinse and repeat. This is why I love social media marketing. The problem is that many marketers look at social as one dimensional, thinking only about how they can use it to promote themselves. That’s all fine and dandy. And to be honest, I highly recommend using automation / social sharing tools to help promote content in the right places to the appropriate audience. But… Social is also a tool for networking, much like the phone, or text, or saying hi to people in a coffee shop. Don’t miss the forest by focusing on the trees.
8. Plan to learn, learn to iterate.
Andy reminded me about something that took me decades to accept, it’s the guarantee that what you set out to build will not end up exactly how you imagined it nor will it keep pace with technology or your customers. The nugget of learning here is not thinking about that fact as a negative thing, but using it to shift your mindset to one of a ‘Beginners mind“. Your website and all of the activities that surround it’s successful operation are just a non-stop experiment to see what works and what doesn’t, much like life itself. The biggest trap that business owners, marketers and entrepreneurs fall into is the checkbox mentality where launching a website or signing up for a new marketing automation tool seems like the end goal. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those tools are just like the shoes you put on before you run a marathon, quite critical no doubt, but they don’t run the race for you.
9. Content promotion for a brand isn’t (and shouldn’t be) an afterthought.
If you build it they won’t come… at least not without promotion.
We are in the age of content overload where there is way more content than any human could consume in their lifetime, just ask Joe Chernov, of Hubspot fame, or Chad Pollitt, the content promotion sage at Digital Relevance. Content promotion is the gasoline that helps your content creation get found and everyone needs to help promote their content. For many marketers, content promotion is the last thing on their mind, because let’s face it, content creation is hard work. There are many ways to think about content promotion, from choosing content that is exactly in line with trending topics that are important to your audience, leveraging influencers to help spread your message and leaning into personal branding to build trust and awareness. If you wan’t to learn how a small marketing team makes it happen, listen to the content promotion playbook of Brian Dean at BackLinko.com, he’s exceptional at it.
10. Invest in your online presence and domain authority.
There doesn’t seem to be a shortcut to establishing a powerful online presence and domain authority. There are ways to do it quickly, though spoiler alert: they all involve hard work and the right marketing strategy. Consumer behavior has forced our hand as entrepreneurs, our prowess on the web is directly related to our business success today and if all indicators remain, it will be mandatory in the years to come. (if that isn’t clear, do not pass go and take a moment to reflect on the plight of traditional newspapers, travel agents, bookstores, taxi’s and hotel rooms). Building a website and all of the content that goes with it is an investment in asset creation. Each piece of content, each landing page, every keyword that becomes part of your online discovery machine is asset in your online marketing portfolio that will reap benefits for years to come. Don’t think you can wait untl later to start filling your online piggy bank..
Three Questions to Ask When Choosing a Website Partner
Crestodina has provided his insights into the world of web design — and industry he has flourished in during the past 15-plus years — to hundreds of companies and organizations in need of a more substantial web presence. When hiring a website design partner & platform, Crestodina notes, there are three very important questions you need to ask:
- Can I meet the team?
Think of it this way: Would you rather have a dedicated team of professionals who are easily accessible and whom you can meet with regularly? Or would you be fine with a firm outsourcing the work to a third party with whom you never connect with? I think I know what most brands and marketers would prefer.
- How have similar sites performed after you designed them?
You may love the aesthetics of the sites a potential firm you may hire has completed … but have those sites actually generated positive results? If not, your best bet is to move on with your search and find an agency that’s actually accomplished work that made a difference for its clients’ bottom lines.
- Can I see your portfolio?
You need to know that any designer you work with has completed work for companies they actually understand — whether they specialize with 10 industries or one, just make sure yours is one of them before signing on the dotted line with a firm.
There are plenty of other factors to consider, according to Crestodina, but at the end of the day, your website’s success boils down to working with people who comprehend your vision down to the most minute details — from the logo placement at the top of a site to the co-alignment with other branding collateral offline.
it was clear in speaking with Crestodina he knows the intricacies that go along with an award-winning online marketing campaign, not just the design work that can help get one noticed more. In this episode, he expands upon the marketers who’re currently doing it the right way, how social media is under-utilized (still) by so many marketing pros, little daily tricks that can augment your promotional strategy, and much more.
If you haven’t yet subscribed, Listen to the podcast in for an honest account of what marketing is all about. The tips, hacks and strategies that professionals share with each other but rarely talk about in public.
Things that Andy’s Mentioned in The Interview